The Colonial Expansion Argument

An important component of Cobbing’s anti-Mfecane thesis put forward in the late 1980s was his argument that imperial powers Portugal and Britain were asserting significant influence over south-east Africa during the early nineteenth-century. Their growing power, Cobbing observed, had a significant impact on African groups across the region. Contrary to the established view of the Mfecane, which regarded the wars fought between African groups during this period as internal struggles, Cobbing argued that they were sparked by the external pressures which accompanied colonial intrusion. Cobbing vehemently rejected the notion that the Mfecane had conveniently taken place prior to European colonialism in south-east Africa. For Cobbing, the Mfecane and European expansionism in the region were inextricably linked. By the time Cobbing’s ‘alibi’ argument was published in 1988, he was arguing that slaving initiated at the Portuguese port of Delagoa Bay,  along with the raiding activities of British colonists and their allies in the Caledon and Highveld regions, were significant in expanding the colonial frontier from the north-east and from the south respectively.

Relevant Works

Cobbing, Julian. “The Mfecane as Alibi: Thoughts on Dithakong and Mbolompo”. The Journal of African History 29, no. 3 (1988), 487-519.

Eldredge, Elizabeth. “Sources of Conflict in Southern Africa c. 1800-1830: The ‘Mfecane’ Reconsidered”. The Journal of African History 33, no. 1 (1992), 1-35.

Etherington, Norman. “A False Emptiness: How Historians May Have Been Misled by Early Nineteenth Century Maps of South-Eastern Africa”. Imago Mundi 56, no. 1 (2004), 67-86.

Etherington, Norman. “A Tempest in a Teapot? Nineteenth-Century Contests for Land in South Africa’s Caledon Valley and the Invention of the Mfecane”.  Journal of African History 45 (2004), 203-219.

Etherington, Norman. The Great Treks: The Transformation of Southern Africa, 1815–1854. London: Pearson Education Limited, 2001.

Webster, Alan. “Unmasking the Fingo: The War of 1835 Revisited”. In The Mfecane Aftermath: Reconstructive Debates in Southern African History, edited by Hamilton, Carolyn, 123-161. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 1995.



Online from: 16 Jul 2021